Much like the Olsen twins’ numerous straight-to-video outings, Dennie Gordon’s theatrical release delivers Mary-Kate and Ashley into a haphazard sequence of episodes. This time, Mary-Kate plays Roxy Ryan, the rebel (high school truant and drummer with a Metallica t-shirt, hoping to get her band’s cd into the hands of a label exec during a Simple Plan “concert” video shoot), and Ashley plays Jane, an overachiever who’s fond of pink suits and is, as New York Minute opens, competing for an Oxford scholarship.
The first sequence shows the girls’ differences, even as they are paralleled: each adorns herself in her bedroom, each prepares for her day’s adventure. And each is headed into NYC from their suburban home, where they reside with their widowed, kindly, clueless doctor dad (played by Dr. Drew Pinsky appears briefly, wishing the girls well as he takes off to attend to a birth). In the kitchen, it also becomes clear just how much the sisters do not get along. Resentful of one another — apparently since their mother’s death however many years ago — they argue and make faces, each determined to follow through on her day’s mission quite apart from her sibling.
In order to set up a “chase” situation right off, the film has Roxy under surveillance by annoyingly obsessive truant officer Max Lomax (Eugene Levy, whose participation in this film officially makes his shtick tired: he needs to find something else to do). Jane, meantime, accidentally solicits the attention of one Bennie Bang (Andy Richter, playing some sort of wacko “adopted son” of a Chinatown matron who runs a nefarious dvd/cd pirating operation — that is, the worst sort of stereotyping — complete with entirely offensive “Chinese” accent). This on the occasion of one of his operatives dropping a pirating microchip into her bad, in order to elude anti-pirating agents (I’m guessing this is what’s going on, as the arrest of the operative and Bennie’s ensuing displays of anxiety are not quite explained, but it hardly matters).
As the girls engage in their respective hijinksy adventures, they do end up spending a good part of “the day” together, which both acknowledge is something they haven’t done for years (being so opposite and antagonistic and all). This results in riotous girl bonding, that is, the same result as in every Olsen twins escapade. Fortuitously, Jane speaks Chinese (“There’s lots you don’t know about me!” she accuses Roxy, when she expresses surprise), so that she can engage in a brief conversation with Bennie, just before he attempts to take them down with martial arts moves. Whereupon Roxy reveals her own secret skills in something resembling taekwondo, such that they elude their would-be captor.
New York Minute‘s piecemeal script, by Emily Fox, Adam Cooper, and Bill Collage, goes through familiar motions, including a set of dull montages (girls running on the sidewalk, girls escaping men in suits, girls learning, again, to appreciate one another). The liveliest and strangest of these takes place in a beauty shop, where the irrepressible Mary Bond Davis (of the Broadway version of Hairspray) treats the twins to big-hair, bright-costume makeovers, before naming them honorary “sistas.” The sheer oddness of this moment cannot be overstated, as the Olsens are exemplary narrow-bottomed white girls, absolutely insulated and removed from any sort of “street” or “beauty shop” culture, revealed when they earnestly mimic dance moves or high-five with the vivaciously gay hairdressers.
Quite aside from such brief diversions, each girl is also assigned a beau: bicycle messenger Jim (Riley Smith) for Jane and Senator’s son Trey (Jared Padalecki) for Roxy. (The Senator is played by Andrea Martin, on board primarily to make anxious faces at the possibility that her Chinese Crested — who swallows that microchip Bennie’s so hepped up about — might be damaged amid the shenanigans). Expectedly, each sister is also assigned gets her own on-screen “first kiss” with her designated romantic interest. Presumably, the twins’ devoted following will take note of this occasion.
All the commotion — which takes too long and makes little sense — doesn’t quite detract from the moral of our story, which is, of course, that the feuding twins must be reconciled. This is what the Olsens do best, highlight the import of sisterly love and young girl power. As icons, marketing tools, and role models, they are notoriously enduring and profitable. Frankly, it doesn’t much matter whether their particular vehicles — tv movies, theatrical releases, magazines, clothing lines — are actually “good.” Mary-Kate and Ashley are what they are, and no one can stop them.